Congo: Katanga next for mineral boom —and war?

Recent headlines from the Democratic Republic of Congo are exceptionally optimistic, with government gains against the M23 rebels in the country's war-torn east followed by the guerilla army's pledge to lay down arms. (IRIN, Nov. 8) Few media accounts have noted that this development comes immediately after the US announced a suspension of military aid to Rwanda, the M23's patron, over use of child soldiers. The DRC itself was also officially blacklisted, but received a "partial waiver." Rwanda was explicitly held responsible for use of child soldiers by its proxy force in the DRC. (VOA, Oct. 3)

The DRC is now touting an imminent mineral boom in copper-rich Katanga province in the country's south. "Our budget for reconstruction has been blocked by the central government because of the war," said Katanga's Gov. Moise Katumbi. "Without this war, there will be more money." (Bloomberg, Nov. 18) But while the world has focused on the M23 insurgency in the east, a low-level war in Katanga has displaced  375,000 over the three years. The separatist Bakata Katanga movement has repeatedly clashed with security forces this year—most recently on Oct. 28, when presumed separatists attacked the home of the military police commander in Lubumbashi, the provincial capital. Bakata Katanga attempted to occupy Lubumbashi in March, sparking a battle that left some 40 dead. (Bloomberg, Oct. 29) 

As in the DRC's east, where a struggle for control of the strategic mineral coltan has figured prominently in the fighting, mineral wealth is a goad of war in Katanga. Earlier this year, Amnesty International issued a report, "Profits and Loss: Mining and human rights in Katanga," linking both "official" and "artisanal" mining operations in Katanga to human rights abuses. In one case highlighted in the report, 300 families were forcibly evicted from their homes in Luisha when a Chinese company, Congo International Mining Corporation (CIMCO), was given mining rights to a site in the center of the village.

These evictions seem to have been carried out by the DRC's regular army. An AFP report on the October attack in Lubumbashi suggests that Katanga is itself divided between the mineral-rich south and a poorer north, which is the separatist stronghold—where residents have the traditional grievance about mineral wealth flowing from the region to enrich national elites. The Africa Report on Oct. 22 indicated that Bakata Katanga emerged from the Mai-Mai (also rendered Mayi-Mayi) movement, a network of militias established by the DRC government to fight Rwanda's proxy forces in the 1990s. An Aug. 11 BBC News profile of the Bakata Katanga ("secede Katanga" in Swahili) says that the movement was launched when a renegade Mai-Mai commander, Gedeon Kyungu Mutanga, escaped from prison in September 2011 and took up arms. The BBC report details horrific atrocities carried out by Bakata Katanga forces.

BBC also recalls the secessionist history of Katanga, and its use to imperialism. Less than a week after Congo's independence in June 1960, separatists took power in Katanga and announced the province's independence—sparking a conflict "fuelled by Cold War rivalries." Secessionist leader and businessman Moise Tshombe was backed by Belgium, the ex-colonial power, and the US and UK, which all had mining interests in Katanga. The revolt helped destabilize the new revolutionary government of Patrice Lumumba, who was overthrown within four months, and shortly later assassinated. Katanga was reintegrated into Congo in 1963 (by which time, BBC does not note, the long US-backed dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko was being consolidated).

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